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Plant Biology Europe (PBE) is a biannual conference jointly organised by the European Plant Science Organization (EPSO) and The Federation of European Societies of Plant Biology (FESPB). This year the conference took place in the beautiful city of Copenhagen and had around 600 participants. Overall it was a great success, with an excellent range of high quality talks and posters covering all aspects of plant biology.
Although the conference covered everything from photosynthesis to the plant microbiome, a number of common themes were apparent. For instance, there were multiple talks and posters on research involving advanced phenotyping technology. One interesting example was a keynote by Christian Sig Jensen, the head of biotech and turf research at DLF. He explained how preliminary results suggest that using drones with mounted multi-spectral camera’s, can significantly improve the accuracy and speed of disease resistance assessment in turf grass field trials. This finding supported a general opinion that phenotyping technology will be an essential tool for breeders of the future.
In addition to the popularity of phenotyping technology, it was also clear that there is an impetus among the plant science community to enhance the resilience of agriculture by increasing the breadth of crop species. Mark Tester provided a perfect example of this, explaining about ongoing research that aims to continue the domestication of Quinoa. One key reason for choosing Quinoa as a species for future agriculture is its excellent salt tolerance. This tolerance means brackish rather than valuable fresh water can be used for irrigation. The domestication of species which already have desired traits provides a useful alternative strategy to the engineering of existing crops.
Another common theme was the popularity of the priming phenomenon. Exposure of plants to specific environmental stimuli can sensitise or ‘prime’ plants stress response pathways resulting in a faster and/or stronger response to subsequent challenge. An interesting example relating to the priming theme was provided by Gwendolin Wehner, who detailed a study which has identified multiple quantitative trait loci (QTL) in barley. These QTL are involved in determining the level of resistance induced, against barley brown rust causing Puccinia hordei, by root inoculation with a strain of the Gram-negative bacteria Ensifer meliloti. Interestingly, the strain of E. meliloti used produces enhanced quantities of a quorum sensing related N-acyl-homoserine-lactone (AHL). Previously published work has shown that AHL induced resistance is underpinned by defence priming. It will therefore be interesting to learn whether any of the identified QTL are linked to epigenetic regulators, which could implement chromatin modifications to ensure defences remain primed.
Although priming was a common theme, I must admit I am slightly biased. At the conference I presented a poster on the role of defence priming in long-lasting jasmonate induced resistance in Arabidopsis thaliana and Picea abies. The poster sessions were an excellent success, which I feel was at least partially driven by the conference venue, the Bella Centre, having space to allow all lunches and coffee breaks to be held in the same room as the posters. Another advantage of the Bella Centre was its location, which allowed for easy access to the city and in turn the excellent array of social activities and technical tours associated with the conference.
One post conference technical tour I attended was a visit to the University of Copenhagen’s experimental farm phenotyping infrastructures. RadiMax, a phenotyping infrastructure allowing the study root growth and development in response to drought, was the most spectacular. However equally novel were the root towers (see picture), which permit the analysis of root growth, nutrient uptake and the interaction of roots with the soil microbiome. Aside from root phenotyping, the tour also allowed me to see and learn more about the drones being used for the DLF field trials mentioned above.
The technical tours along with the rest of the program could be found on the conference app. While the app was well designed and informative, one major downside was the inability to quickly and easily access all the abstracts. The provision of an abstract book at future PBE conferences would be useful for selecting which sessions to attend and posters to view.
Overall, PBE2018 was a great success. The variety of topics covered allowed me to consider my research in a broad context. Yet, as there was numerous talks and posters on biotic and abiotic stress responses, I was also able to have excellent discussions on the finer details of my research. Thus, I would like to conclude by thanking the BSPP for awarding me the travel grant which made my visit to PBE2018 possible.
Samuel Wilkinson University of Sheffield / Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research (NIBIO)